© 2003 Ginger Henry Geyer
glazed porcelain with white gold
approx. 25 ½" x 16" x 6"
(7 parts mounted on board)
(commissioned for Stations of the Cross, Hope Chapel, Austin: Station No. 11: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross)
One thing Jesus had in common with the guy who nailed him to the cross was tools. As a carpenter, Jesus was well acquainted with hammers and saws and nails. Like every good artisan, he probably had favorite ones that felt like an extension of his arm. A good tool fits the hand just so; it enables the job to be done artfully, effortlessly. No doubt having such tools used against him was yet another form of betrayal.
A friend who teaches woodworking helped me play with ideas for this sculpture. Then he mailed me two rough leather carpenter's aprons, or tool belts. He had found them in the street a year ago, apparently fallen off of a truck. Knowing they were broken in and probably like second nature to their owners, he ran a lost and found ad in the newspaper. No response, so I inherited them, sans tools but still containing a few nails and square pencils. They are much richer than the spanking new ones at the hardware store, and served well as models for the "Crucifixion Kit."
It is harsh, but then so is the eleventh Station of the Cross, “Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross.” This porcelain rendition of a tool belt is beat-up and hanging out to dry. It clanks with favorite gear. Some tools dangle off of it, others are tucked away. Each represents one of the traditional "instruments of the passion". They have been used too much. There is the hammer (yet to be redeemed by the "If I Had a Hammer" song) and a saw (warped here by the firing or by very hard wood?) Suddenly after the first kiln firing was loaded, I realized I’d forgotten the nails. What an essential thing to omitwere they too hard to face? I resisted my denial and quickly rolled out several bent nails, sprigging them out holes and pockets, and fired them wet. There's the flat red pencil for preliminary markings, and a magic marker for making a "King of the Jews" sign. Then the oddities-- a small gardener's shovel for digging a hole for the cross (here it appears to be suspended, as it helpfully covers a crack in the piece), and a power drill for heavy duty work (why I do not know but it really makes me cringe). There is a nod to the Romans with a measuring tape, just to make certain that things measure up, as if only what can be quantified really counts. A fireplace poker, an emblem of hearth and home, stands in for the spear. It broke in the firing, and isn’t easy to repair. Perhaps that signals the irrevocability of the pain we inflict upon others…and indeed this sculpture is about we who hurt Jesus, not they who killed him.
The weirdest object in the tool belt is the gas station squeegee. It is a piece I made a few years ago called "Self-Service", in response to Jesus' dying statement, "I thirst". He was offered a sponge on a stick, saturated with sour wine. Was this an act of mockery or of compassion? The scriptural passages don't really say. Was it vinegar, often used as an antiseptic? Or wine, to dull the pain? Either way, sour wine on a sponge doesn’t sound like a thirst-quencher. Perhaps the soldier offered it with good intentions; perhaps he felt some satisfaction in doing a charitable thing. In this case, a squeegee wipes the surface so we can see more clearly. But would you put this nasty thing in your mouth? It is possible that his ambiguous act was the final blow, for right after that, Jesus died.
There are ten tool items here and could easily be more, like a chainsaw, an extension cord, or stain remover. I forgot the coins and dice. No dice. Rejected the ladder and the torn garment on a technicalitythere are size limitations with porcelain. Considered adding a level, to be sure that the cross was square…but then doubted that anybody would care if it was square or not...after all, we might own a bunch of tools, but that doesn't make us artisans. We could refer to a step-by-step booklet, like the "Four Spiritual Laws", illustrated with anatomical drawings of hands and feet, so we'd know the most efficient spot to drive in the nails. So much could be used and misused here.
The piece could've taken on bibleidolatry, that literalism that forces people to praise and advocate genocide, slavery, and bigotry just because they appear in the scripture. I had wanted to add a painting on the front pocket that would show how we become desensitized to violence. What conditions us to kill love? What blinds us to suffering, prepares us to become the crucifier? What is at the root of this, fear? Some examples of bad art came to mind, such as Hitler’s watercolors and Thomas Kinkade's paintings. Nothing horrible about those sappy, banal utopias, but one of them lured folks out of reality into an exclusive nostalgia that became horrific. A friend suggested Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner, always fighting and falling off cliffs, popping back up unharmed as if violence has no consequences. But in the end, the front pocket simply took on Home Depot stenciling: Do It Yourself. Rowan Williams, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote this in Resurrection:
"To be given the picture of myself as crucifier is to make an important discovery about the nature of suffering itself. Pain is not only what I endure, but also what I transmit…. To know ourselves as crucifiers is to know ourselves as responsible: We are able to say yes or no to violence, to accept or protest. The risen Christ established firmly and inescapably the polarity between oppressor and victim as a fundamental reality of our world; there is a gulf to be bridged; a wound that will not be healed until we have seen that it is bleeding…. As uncomfortable as we sometimes are with such, it may do us well to see ourselves as the ones who turned the Holy Family away, who made Love be born in a stable, to see ourselves not as on the cross, but nailing someone to it."
Do It Yourself. That temptation is ever before us in this age of individualism and self-help. Artists and others who work in solitude know it well. But we also know we do not create or destroy all alonewe are all in this together, both as communities and as nations. My own intentions were to create this Kit so that I might better intuit the crucifixion (I long since gave up on understanding it.) I wanted the piece to offer hope to others regardless of how brutal or convicting its primary message is. But was there any hope on Good Friday? Any hope for those who skillfully affixed human flesh to raw wood? Sometimes we have to hunt for hope, for it is subliminal. Luke 23:34 has it, in that gloriously radical declaration of grace for the two criminals who flanked Jesus, and for those who still torture him. Listen for that still, small voice that offers hope over pain:
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do..."